Cadiz Watchtowers

The watchtower next door is crumbling.
In a faded grandeur, decadent kind of way. Its silhouette remains fearless against the combat of years and climate. The extreme sun, winds and showers have slought off some of its magnificence, but still preserves the magical aura.

Watch Tower over San Antonio square

In 1717, when Cadiz became the official shipping port, holding the monopoly for overseas commerce, Spanish and foreign traders were already established, as Cádiz was already a trading point with North Africa. Columbus’s discovery developed it into the most important and advanced city in Europe, and even the whole world.

This small town has no edges, only a natural boundary with the sourrounding sea. Scattered around the old part of Cádiz, the 129 watchtowers that are still in existence are witness to the importance of the commerce in this city, in the XVIII century. They became a status symbol, and ever since, they have belonged to the skyline of Cadiz. On a wooden maquette of the town, dated 1777, we can count up to 160 towers.  All of them, except for Torre Tavira, belong to private owners and thus Tavira is the only one that can be visited on a daily basis…


House of the 4 watchtowers

With no other similar architectural features like these watchtowers in southern Andalucía, they have a clear North African influence. There are four different shapes: Terrace, Chair, Sentry box and Mixed, which is a chair with a sentry box. The most impressive example could be the so-called “four towers” house, an amazing ‘palace’ owned by Syrian merchant. He was so aware of the importance of his 4-tower building, that he reserved a piece of land in front of it so it could be seen better. Eugène Delacroix must have thanked him for that, as he drew a sketch of the facade. Decorated with interlacing arches with copper oxide ‘almagra’ that resembles the decor that the arabs used in their buildings.


Each tower and its family had its own flag, whereby they could comunicate directly with their ships, and even start trading remotely with other merchants before the goods reached port. Lots of exotic products were found in town, and the hustle and bustle of all social classes and various nationalities would give birth to the liberal mentality and open character of its citizens that we find today. This cosmopolitan attitude is still typical of the Cádiz inhabitants. Thinking ‘without frontiers’ must surely be the origin of the liberal movements that induced the first Spanish constitution to be signed in Cádiz in 1812.

Flags and kites (used as an entertainment back in those days) have given in to thousands of antennas. This aluminum forest of cables and steel structures could be metaphor for the decadence of modern communication, through TV and airwaves. Some might think that this veritable forest imposing itself on the evocative historical inheritance of the ‘torres miradores’ is a disgrace, but somehow we feel that the aerials are a sign of ongoing life and development within the histotical city, which is a living creature, not a museum piece. The spidery TV antennas of today create another layer of visual interest, and blend in so naturally, that it would be hard to imagine Cadiz without them.


Here is a link to Cecilio Chaves work. Very interesting artist focused on rooftops.

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